Although the books haven’t been closed for hardly a month on the last set of city employee labor negotiations and agreements, City Manager Jim Voetberg told his city council Monday night he’s already planning to sit down with union leaders in an attempt to hammer out a leaner wage and benefit package for next year, namely because city finances will likely be even tighter then.
In his report to the city council, Voetberg said he has sent letters to all three city unions asking them to help “reduce and/or contain employee health insurance costs.” Voetberg said he has asked the city’s health insurance provider, CIS, to make a presentation to the city and its employee unions about possible savings options. When asked whether those options might include higher employee deductibles, higher co-pays, cost sharing on premiums, or trying to get a better deal from the insurance company, Voetberg said “everything is on the table.”
Voetberg said the same goes for retirement benefits, especially in light of recent revelations that city, county and state governments will have to start making bigger payments to the state Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) to make up for its huge losses brought on by the “Great Recession.” Voetberg told the council that the City’s defined benefit plan is no longer the norm. In other words, a guaranteed retirement amount at the end of one’s career is no longer possible based on financial realities. And Voetberg continued to point to Newport’s still anemic savings account. Although he was able to engineer an increase in the City’s reserves from $177,000 up to $501,000 during the last year, he says he wants to add another $200,000 to the city’s savings account over the next year, enroute to an eventual leveling out point of $1.2 million several years down the road. He said it is not a good idea for a city the size of Newport to have so little savings in relation to its ten million dollar budget. He said unexpected and very expensive problems can and will erupt and that the city must be ready when those things happen.